01

One

GLOSSARY

1. Puh – Paternal uncles addressed as Father in Poumai

2. Che – Aunts addressed as Mother in Poumai

3. Paate – Paternal uncle in Uipo (Khoibu)

4. Adarcha – Aunt in Uipo (Khoibu)

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Out at the forlorn horizon, the sad sun stretched out its arms across the sky, reaching for the tender face of the young boy, Daniel, as it sank behind the hills of the forefathers of his forefathers. Ten-year-old Daniel, as if in response to the desperate call, suddenly stopped short on his track, from chasing his cousin sisters and friends – playing tag – and turned his attention to the lonely sun. The day was ending. And before it was too late in the evening, he'd leave his beloved village, Reiveihmai. And now, his eyes were transfixed on his long companion slowly disappearing out of sight. He'd miss home.

The hills too seemed to mourn for his departure, Daniel's innocent heart wished he could comb through the jungle one last time with his friends, eating wild fruits, and bathing in the streams. Voices seemed farther at this late hour, the dust thicker, and although morning had long gone, Che Dune's brown rooster raised its neck and crowed at the top of its lungs, balancing on one leg on the tip of a bamboo pole.

"What are you looking at?" cousin Sahriine asked.

He turned to her and shook his head, "Nothing."

"Daniel! It's nearly time to go. Come inside!" Che Dune called from the rusty kitchen door.

Daniel dusted his pants and rushed inside, followed by his cousins Sahriine and Eziine. Che Dune invited the rest of his friends too and treated them with goodies again. The night before, they'd also gathered for a grand dinner. Daniel stood at the door and watched Puh Khozii and Uncle Ronghei load his belongings into the backseat of the maroon Maruti-800 that Uncle Ronghei drove. Children circled it, stroking and admiring the automobile like it had dropped from the sky. No one in the village had yet owned a car. No one had yet even dared to dream of owning one.

Five minutes later, Daniel was strapped into the front seat of the car. A long bumpy ride awaited them, and Uncle Ronghei predicted that they would reach his home in the dark just in time for dinner. For that, Che Dune made sure that Daniel was wearing his thickest jacket since February nights were just as cold as January.

Daniel had to cling to a handle above his head for dear life as Uncle Ronghei manoeuvred them down the long winding road. The road up the hill to his village was just wide enough to fit the tiny Maruti, any wrong move would have them rolling down the cliff. But Uncle Ronghei seemed confident in his driving skill. He sang and told stories for most of the ride. He told Daniel stories about his younger days, back when he and Daniel's father were into rock music and tall boots. He told the young boy they even formed a band that was quite the talk of the town for a while until the members got married one after the other and they never truly got back together again. Some of them had died. Daniel's father was one.

Daniel's father, Rovei Ramai, had died four years ago due to a sudden illness, and ever since, Daniel had been living with his father's younger brother, Khozii and his wife, Dune. The couple had no son of their own, but two daughters, Sahriine and Veihriine. Now that Sahriine and Daniel have turned ten, there was no class fit for them in the village primary school anymore. They had to be sent to town if they were to continue learning. Uncle Khozii first decided to keep all three of them at a boarding home in town. That was when Ronghei stepped in and told Khozii that his house was empty, inhabited just by him and his wife. Having no children yet, Ronghei had said the kids would bring life to his home. Khozii considered it and decided that three children would be too big a burden for them. However, he agreed to let Daniel live with them, while his daughters would be kept at a boarding home.

Daniel had fallen asleep on the way. He was later woken by Uncle Ronghei in front of a half-finished brick house, and he made out the figure of a pregnant woman expecting them at the doorway. The woman stood at average height, draped in flowy white nightwear and a shawl over her right shoulder.

Cradling her baby bump, she smiled at them and called to the boy, "Have you been sleeping, Daniel? Come inside. Food is ready. Oh, you must be exhausted."

Chuckling softly, Ronghei helped the boy out of the car and led him inside.

"You must be hungry too," said Aunty Shangdar, stroking the boy's head.

Daniel rubbed his tired eyes and offers a smile. "I'm fine."

Aunty Shangdar set the table immediately and after dinner, Daniel was ready to sleep. He couldn't remember travelling this far, ever in his life, and he was exhausted. Aunty Shangdar tucked him into his new bed in his new room and turned the light off.

"You are not afraid of sleeping alone, are you?" she asked him again.

"No. I'm not afraid."

Shangdar nods. Che Dune had also told her that he was a brave boy.

"If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to let us know. If you don't want to sleep alone, you can sleep with us. It's alright."

"I'll be fine."

"Very well, then. Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

Daniel closed his eyes and felt the velvety covers stroking his chin. It felt so good unlike the rather coarse texture of his blanket back at the village. But he missed it. Aunty Shangdar and Uncle Ronghei had arranged for him a Prince's room, but he didn't know who he would play with the next day, or what he would do. He missed the village and his friends, and as he rolled to his side, hugging the corner of his blanket, tears trickled into his pillow.

The first week was rather boring. Daniel thought of his village very often. However, Uncle Ronghei and Aunty Shangdar, who he now calls Paate Ronghei and Darcha Shangdar in their Khoibu dialect, would take him with them around the neighbourhood every evening after dinner, introducing him to the people, and one fine evening, he met his first friend, Laangthou. And night after night, he made more friends, and in a month, he found himself very much a part of the new place, Bethany, and his days were not as sad anymore.

On the twenty-first day of May, a very precious thing arrived to Ronghei and Shangdar. A little girl it was, fair and loud. And whatever joy that was absent in the house was filled to the roof by the tiny, fiery thing's howling. It'd wail into the night, keeping everyone awake, sleeping only during the day, but no matter how bad it exhausted the couple, she was still their favourite flower, Lily. Lily Khaling. She had arrived after two miscarriages.

More often than not, Daniel too would toss sleepless in his bed, jolted awake by the baby's cries. Sometimes worried that she might be sick, he'd step down the stairs, peek into their room, asking if she was alright.

"She's alright, Daniel. Is she keeping you too awake? Come in."

He'd sit on their bed, play with the kid for a while, and return to his room after the baby had calmed down. She was a little storm but Daniel adored her. Every day after school, he'd watch over the baby as it slept, let it hold his thumb. Since Shangdar was mostly occupied running the household, the baby was often left to play with him. Eventually, the baby grew to dot on Daniel the way it should to her mother. When nights were loud and lightning split the sky, Daniel would find the toddler at his door, her little arms stretched up to him, asking him to hold her. And he would. He would hold her in his arms through the night, and she would sleep like nothing could wake her again.

Daniel was her best friend, her biggest supporter, sometimes even her mum and dad, her comfort. Daniel was the one she'd run crying to if anything upsets her. At the age of six, she was already following Daniel on vacations to his village, Reiveihmai, without her parents, never asking for her mum even once.

In the village, she would spend her time running up and down the slope that leads to the church on the hilltop. Perched on Daniel's shoulders, she would imagine flying like a bird; arms open to the wind, inviting them like her friend. The girl was filled with light, as though she carried the sun in her eyes and her laughter. On other days, she would help Aunt Dune feed the chicks, and on some other days, she would accompany Daniel and his cousin, Sahriine and Veihriine, to Daniel's plot of land where Aunt Dune maintained her kitchen garden.

The first time she visited the place, Lily was caught surprised by the sight of a little thatched hut standing firm in the middle of the vast plot, claiming the land as its. Lily had been informed beforehand that Daniel's land was huge, and she had expected a huge house to fit the size of his property.

Staring ahead at it with a heavy heart, she'd said, "It's so small."

"I used to have a bigger house but time wore it away and we had to demolish it," Daniel'd explain.

"Why did you build this then? No one lives here anyway. Even you live with Uncle Khozii and Aunty Dune."

"Well, Puh Khozii and Che Dune built this for me just for the sake that I have a house, whether I live in it or not. They built this for me because they love me," Daniel had explained feelingly with gratitude in his heart.

"Mocha," she called, meaning brother in her Uipo dialect, "Will you build yourself a house again when you're older?"

"Yes, I will."

"When you do, you must spare a room for me. I plan to live here forever," Lily stated rather sternly and Daniel's face split up to give a broad smile as he looked down at the adorable thing, brown eyes, jet-black fringes, and her innocent demands.

"Of course, anything for you, Miss. Are you sure one room is all you want? I could give you two if you'd like."

"One will be enough. But it shouldn't be too small. Also, I would need one huge closet to keep all my dresses."

"Right."

"Oh! And a nice couch for Barbie. I miss Barbie now."

Barbie was her pampered Labrador. As she skipped and danced her way home, clinging to Daniel's hand, suggesting several house designs, what they should keep; whom they should allow to stay over, what food they should cook, when they should go downtown to visit her parents, or when they should come over to visit... The list was endless. And when the sky poured cats and dogs late at night, Daniel found the little girl standing outside his door, Che Dune beside her.

"She couldn't sleep with us," said Che Dune.

"You haven't slept at all?" Daniel asked the girl. It was nearly midnight now.

The little girl shook her head. "No."

"Come on in."

Smiling with a breath of relief, she jumped into his arms and snuggled under the covers in his bed, sleeping like nothing could wake her again.


Hello Dear Reader!

I understand that this book must strike you as something really new with all the new terms and name tags. It might be confusing for you at first, but as you read a very few chapters, I promise that you will be able to get everything very easily. So sit tight and keep reading a very passionate and tender love story from North East India 🤗 I'm so excited to be sharing this with you all. I hope you truly enjoy it.

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Love, Hermyne

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